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Dear Father Angelo,

I would ask the meaning of two sentences, concerning the precept of love of neighbor, which were condemned in a decree of the Holy Office under Innocent XI in 1679, which I think belong to the Magisterium of the Church. They say :

Non tenemur proximum diligere actu interno et formali (we are not obliged to love our neighbor with an internal and formal act);

Praecepto proximum diligendi satisfacere possumus per solos actus externos (we can satisfy the precept of loving our neighbor through external acts alone).

Now, it is evident that it is not enough to do the external work of love for one’s neighbor, as would be the case with a person who gives alms, but in his heart he hates the person to whom he gives alms.

However, I would like to know whether  these two  condemned sentences( especially the first, which it speaks of ( internal and formal act ) imply that, in order to fulfill the commandment of love of neighbour, we are also required periodically to formulate within ourselves an explicit act of love of neighbor (for example, the act of charity, where we expressly say: “…and, for your sake, I love my fellow man as myself”).

Or is it enough that the will to love one’s neighbor is implicitly understood in the act of contrition that one does when one confesses?

Thank you for the answer you will give me and I wish you a merry Christmas (2019).



Priest’s answer

Dear Davide,

1. I’m sorry for the delay in answering and apologize.

2. With the condemnations you pointed out to me, the Magisterium reminded us that our love for our neighbor must take our whole life, body and soul, inner life and outer life.

3. Internal love means that it must start from the will. Otherwise this love wouldn’t make us good.

Formal love means that it must be a true act of love: for it to be true, you don’t have to say it in words.

It’s true even if it’s implicit in the facts.

Therefore the declaration of the Magisterium does not want to induce any form of scruple.

So that if we actually help our neighbor in his needs and we are happy to do so, we must recognize that we are faced with an internal and external act of love for our neighbor, even if it is not said internally: “ I mean to love the neighbor” .

4. An analogous thing is required for those who celebrate the sacraments: it is required that they have a formal intention (according to the theological meaning of this word), that is, specific.

The moral theologians specify that a formal (specific) intention is sufficient, which is implicit in the very act of dressing the vestments and going to the presbytery to celebrate Mass.

In other words, you are required to be aware of what you are doing, that is, to understand it and want it.

5. In the past, priests were exhorted to recite the formula “I want to celebrate Mass and consecrate the Body and Blood of the Lord according to the rite of the Holy Roman Church, to the praise and glory of God and of the whole heavenly Church, for  my benefit and that of the whole militant Church, for all those who have recommended themselves to my prayers in general and in particular and for the happy state of the Holy Roman Church ”.

But the Mass was valid even if they did not pronounce these words.

Rather it was invalid if even with an interior act they had said: “I do not intend to celebrate Mass and I do not intend to consecrate” while dressing for the celebration and going to the altar.

In that case they would pretend to celebrate.

6. You ask me if the words of the act of contrition implicitly contain the will to love one’s neighbor.

Sure. But in order to avoid any form of scruple it is more important and more evident to show it with facts than to say it even only internally.

I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo